Re: RARA-AVIS: A Complete List of Gold Medal Paperbacks from 1949-1968

From: Joy Matkowski (
Date: 28 Jan 2010

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    For publisher's and/or book stores' staff who can't read? As in "Fetch me three green circles."
        No, it doesn't make sense, but why else? Joy

    jwwoolley wrote:
    > --- In, David Rachels <RachelsDA@...> wrote:
    >> A random question, prompted by Jeff's awesome list: Does anyone know
    >> what the symbols on the spines of some GM paperbacks mean? (They are
    >> near the top, underneath the catalog number.) Looking at the shelf
    >> in front of me, for example, I see a red heart on #380, a black X on
    >> #409, a black box on #448, a black hourglass on #522, a black circle
    >> on #500, a green club on #224, etc. etc., but the majority of them do
    >> not have these markings.
    > I can't give a complete answer, but I have some information.
    > The "spine symbols" (as I've always called them) fall into three
    > periods.
    > 1. From 213 through 225 (and maybe 226 and 227, copies of which I,
    > alas, do not own), each book carries a spine symbol that's either a star
    > or a card-suit (club, diamond, heart, spade), and is either red green or
    > black. I can't see any pattern to them. There are no repetitions; that
    > is, for instance, 225 and no other has a red spade, 216 and no other has
    > a green diamond, etc. The only book in this group that was reprinted
    > with the same stock number is 222 (Vin Packer's SPRING FIRE), and both
    > printings show the same black club.
    > 2. Then there were no more spine symbols until 244 (or maybe 243, which
    > I'm missing). From 244 to d387, there is a spine symbol in red green or
    > black on every book, with a very few exceptions. (313 doesn't have a
    > symbol at all; Red Seals 13 through 28, which fall into this time
    > period, have spine symbols in white yellow or red, contrasting with
    > their spine colours; and some of the Gold Medal covers that feature
    > wraparound paintings instead of the usual gold spine have symbols in a
    > contrasting white.) The symbols themselves are much more various in
    > this period, including not only card-suits and stars, but letters, rings
    > and circles, arrangements of four squares, plus-marks, vertical and
    > horizontal oblongs, triangles, squares, bowties, arrows ... you get the
    > picture.
    > The only pattern I've been able to see is that each month's publications
    > have a sort of similar theme to all their spine symbols, without any
    > actual repetitions within the month. For instance, books published in
    > August 1952 feature a square in their spine symbols -- 250 has a black
    > square, 251 has a green square with a line next to it, 252 has a green
    > square with no line, 253 has a black square with a line, 254 has a red
    > square, 255 has a red square with a line; even Red Seal 17, published
    > that same month, has a white square. But it's only August with squares;
    > July has circles, September has little triangles.
    > Besides that, though, all bets are off about seeing patterns. Sometimes
    > two colours appear in the same spine symbol (348 has a green S with a
    > black I, 352 has a black S with a red plus, 353 a red S with a black
    > plus, etc.). Invariably, later printings of the same stock number have
    > the same spine symbol.
    > 3. From 388 through 566 the spine symbols are all black (except on a
    > couple of wraparound paintings); and from 567 through 675 they're all
    > red. In this range, the "monthly theme" seems to have been dropped, but
    > there is a kind of discernible pattern. The spine symbols, with some
    > exceptions to the cycle, become kind of periodic, with a period of 10.
    > If the last digit of the book number is 0, the spine symbol is a circle;
    > if the last digit is 1, it's a vertical bar; 2 a bowtie; 3 a triangle; 4
    > a diamond; 5 a star; 6 a horizontal bar; 7 a cross; 8 a square; and 9 a
    > letter X. (The symbols were clearly chosen with the corresponding
    > number in mind, as the 0, 1, 3, 4, 5 show.)
    > The exceptions (the black diamond on s403, black square on 553, black
    > triangle on 554, and possibly some more) probably indicate times when
    > the order of publication was changed at the last minute.
    > After 675 there are no more spine symbols, except that at least three
    > (s774, 914, and 972) have spine symbols left over from earlier printings
    > of the same titles that nobody (apparently) remembered to remove from
    > the cover art.
    > Lots of information ... but why they bothered with spine symbols at all,
    > I have no idea.
    > -- John Woolley (What me, obsessed?)

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